Hong Kong trade officials are standing firm in the multi-billion-dollar textile dispute with the United States, leaving no immediate end in sight. No official talks are planned with US trade officials but the government is resisting calls to seek an independent ruling from the World Trade Organisation (WTO), newly appointed Director-General of Trade Alan Lai Nin says. US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Hong Kong officials held informal discussions at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum meeting of trade ministers in Christchurch last week, but no substantive progress was made, Mr Lai said. The principle of sovereignty was central to the dispute, with the US making unreasonable demands for roving access to Hong Kong factories to monitor alleged trans-shipments, he said. These had no basis in international law and breached conventions dictating the access that custom officials could expect from a sovereign territory, Mr Lai said. The US imposed extra documentation on textiles and clothes - exports worth about $3.5 billion - shipped from Hong Kong on July 17. It claims that huge quantities of falsely labelled goods are evading textile quota restrictions. US officials have been surprised by the Hong Kong Government's intransigence over the issue because similar operations are carried out in more than 50 countries. Informal contacts will be maintained with the Hong Kong trade delegation based in Washington, but no ministerial initiatives are planned. The dispute has been taken to the highest level, with Governor Chris Patten writing to President Clinton on the subject. Mr Lai said he would try to avoid involving the WTO because it would take at least 18 months to resolve. He was confident in the government's bilateral negotiating stance with the US. In promoting Hong Kong's trade interests he vowed to champion bilateral and multilateral frameworks. He had no specific policy agendas for the office but said Hong Kong was best served within a broadly multilateral structure since all parties come to the table as equals. Hong Kong would continue to promote a system of international trade that was completely free, transparent and without quotas, he said.